If you're the parent of a college-boundstudent, now's the timeto start thinking about financialaid. Next to doing your incometaxes, filing a Free Applicationfor Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) isoften the most dreaded bit of paperworkamong parents of college-agestudents. But it doesn't have to be. Asan article in the pointsout, diligence in this process is the keyto securing financial aid.
Starting the Process
One of the most important things tokeep in mind is that it's crucial to keepinformed. More than likely, your childis applying to multiple colleges.Remember that each college couldhave different filing requirements,which could mean different pieces ofinformation at different times. Thebest people to talk to are the financialaid folks at the respective colleges.They are there to help, but it's up toyou to take the initiative.
Above all, don't take a defeatist attitudebefore you start. Just because anolder child was turned down for financialaid doesn't mean other siblings willbe as well. According to the , your chances of receiving afinancial aid reward for both childrengreatly increases now that two of yourchildren are attending college.
Online Ease and Taxes
Filing the FAFSA is not a processyou'll want to repeat, so be certain tomake photocopies of all necessarypaperwork. Although you can submitthe application via the mail, the articlesuggests that you take advantage ofonline filing. Aside from checking yourstatus online and making corrections toprocessed applications, the most importantreason for filing the FAFSA onlineis reducing the chance of error. TheFAFSA interactive software will notallow you to continue if you have omittedinformation or moved a decimalpoint around in your figures. You canalso print a paper rough draft to prepareyourself before the actual filing.
Even though the FAFSA applicationrecommends that you file your taxesbefore filing the application, it's notalways a requirement. If a collegerequires early filing of the FAFSA form,simply take out last year's taxes, alongwith your W-2s, and estimate, which isbetter than rushing through your taxesand making a costly error, as the articlenotes. Again, parents should talk to therespective college's financial aid departmentto find out what the college requiresand when. Keep in mind that anaid package could be delayed until yourfinal income tax filing is received.
No Race to the Finish
Financial aid is not a first-come,first-served enterprise. Similar to theSATs, notes the article, there are nobonus points for those who finish first.If you rush and make a mistake, thatcould prove even more costly. Take thetime to put money into an IRA orKeogh, prepay any self-employmenttaxes, or pay off credit card debt fromsavings, all legitimate ways to reduceyour assets before filing the FAFSA.Conversely, you don't want to file late.As the article points out, while youwon't get more aid by filing early, youcan receive less if you file late.
In addition, don't overreact to anadmissions acceptance. Too often, happyfamilies turn right around and rush tosend in deposits before hearing backabout financial aid. Doing so greatlyreduces your leverage if the aid packageis much lower than you had anticipated.
Once your child has been accepted,the college is required to keep a spotopen until the acceptance deadline. Ifyou're disappointed with the aid packageoffered to you, recall the good dealyou received on a car because you werewilling to walk away. Simply put onyour best poker face and tell the collegeyou need more time to think over thedecision. It's your diligencethat pays off in the end. For more information,call 800-433-3243 or visitwww.fafsa.ed.gov.